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Elders ask Creator to forgive tribe for controversial casino

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YUMA, Ariz. (AP) - Elders of the Quechan tribe in southwestern Arizona and California sang songs and prayed to the Creator to forgive the tribe for trying to build a casino on land they believe is sacred.

The $200 million casino and resort is proposed to be built south of Interstate 8 in Andrade, Calif., on the Fort Yuma-Quechan Reservation.

While leadership within the tribe supports the casino and said the endeavor will boost the economy, some members of the tribe strongly oppose the idea. Five such members were arrested in June after they

protested the casino by setting up a ceremonial sweat lodge.

On June 30, tribal elders conducted ceremonies near the casino site to heal the land and appeal to the Creator.

Elder Vernon Smith pointed to Pilot Knob Mountain, where he said crews have removed soil.

''We were told the mountain would not be harmed,'' he said. ''They cut into our very heart, our very soul. They have separated the bond that's there and the healing needs to start.''

He and two other elders, Preston Arrow-Weed and Milton Jefferson Sr., said building the casino on sacred land offends the Creator and their ancestral spirits.

''We're not trying to stop the casino,'' Arrow-Weed said. ''This is just not the right place.''

The three elders said they represent a growing number of Quechan elders who are getting weary of tribal leaders who don't seek their knowledge of culture and history when making major decisions.

Tribe President Mike Jackson did not return phone calls for comment, but previously said the tribe conducted a ''comprehensive cultural and archaeological study'' of the casino site and is taking steps to protect artifacts there.